More and more, we’re being asked to live with technology that is technically reliable, because it was created to fit our knowledge of the physical world, but that is so complex or so counterintuitive that it’s actually unusable by most human beings. Even in the relatively benign context of everyday tasks, this pattern is already creating dysfunctional effects. It leads to human error, anger and frustration; we’ve all felt our blood pressure rise when we’re lost in the labyrinth of options offered by automated phone message systems or when we’re trying to guess which light switch corresponds to the lights we want to turn on or off. Eventually these inefficiencies, errors and maddenly complex situations give way to alienation and in the long run this leads to an even more severe double whammy: a failure to exploit the potential of both people and technology.
I didn’t even know about the field of human factors engineering yesterday, but The Human Factor is fascinating reading, and it’s addressing some issues that affect all of us in fairly significant ways. I’m glad I picked up a copy.